Phillies

Encouraged by 'excellent' offseason, Phillies GM Matt Klentak willing to wait on Manny Machado and Bryce Harper

Encouraged by 'excellent' offseason, Phillies GM Matt Klentak willing to wait on Manny Machado and Bryce Harper

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies have a handful of new, impact players in their spring-training clubhouse, but much of the focus remains on who is not here.

So, it was not surprising that moments after participating in a news conference to announce Aaron Nola’s four-year, $45 million contract extension on Thursday, general manager Matt Klentak was peppered with questions about the status of the team’s pursuit of free agents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.

“I don't know when some of these free agents are going to sign," Klentak said. "A lot of people are curious to see where these guys are going to go. I am too.

“We’re going to continue to play it out and see what happens. We’re plenty willing to make commitments when the time is right. We're comfortable that we've put our best foot forward. But it takes more than one party’s willingness to do that.”

Klentak made the point that, regardless of what happens with Machado and Harper, the Phils have had a productive offseason.

“We’ve had an objectively excellent offseason,” he said. “The notion that if we fail to sign a big free agent it’s a failure off an offseason, I don’t agree with that.

“I think if you look at our offseason, we’ve done just about everything that we set out to do.”

The Phillies addressed significant defensive shortcomings by adding Andrew McCutchen to the outfield and moving Rhys Hoskins to first base. They upgraded the offense and defense at shortstop and catcher with Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto, respectively. They helped the bullpen with the addition of David Robertson and lefties James Pazos and Jose Alvarez.

“A lot of years, that’s a complete, thorough and successful offseason, and I really think it is,” Klentak said. “I’m not trying to throw cold water on the idea that we may still sign a free agent. We are going to continue to explore that market because there are still several really good free agents out there.”

With an improved roster comes more pressure to win.

Klentak is feeling a different vibe.

“I think pressure is the wrong word,” he said. “If you’re feeling pressure, you’re in the wrong line of work. What I’m feeling is excitement. We went through several lean years in a rebuild. We did that to put ourselves in a position to compete and make aggressive moves to put us in contention.

“We were a first place team until August and then we faded late last season. In an effort to make sure we don’t fade late this year, we’ve been more aggressive this offseason. But ‘pressure’ is not the right word. We’re motivated, we’re driven and we’re excited.”

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Zach Eflin excellent, Bryce Harper homers and Phillies beat Braves again

Zach Eflin excellent, Bryce Harper homers and Phillies beat Braves again

BOX SCORE 

ATLANTA — A couple of home runs and some excellent pitching.

That was the Phillies’ recipe in a 4-1 win over the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night.

The Phils remain alive in the NL wild-card race. They entered the night four games out and had a chance to pick up ground depending on outcomes elsewhere.

There are 12 games remaining.

Zach Eflin gave the Phils an outstanding start Wednesday night and he was supported by home runs from Bryce Harper and Cesar Hernandez. Harper’s 32nd homer was a long, two-run shot against Julio Teheran in the fourth inning.

The Phillies only had four hits in the game and they struck out 12 times. It helps when half of your hits go over the wall and are preceded by a batter getting hit by a pitch as J.T. Realmuto was before Harper’s homer. The Phils scored their fourth run on a bases-loaded walk to Jean Segura in the sixth.

The Phils have beaten the Braves two straight nights in this three-game series. They have hit four home runs, including three two-run shots, in the two games.

Atlanta’s magic number for winning the NL East is two.

The Phillies are 78-72. They need to win four of their final 12 games to have their first winning season since 2011.

Quite the rebound

Eflin had struggled mightily in three previous starts against the Braves this season, including one last week. In just 9 1/3 innings, he was tagged for 17 hits and 20 runs (eight were unearned). He walked nine and struck out nine.

Eflin really turned the tables in this one. Relying heavily on his favorite pitch, a sinking, two-seam fastball, he held the Braves to five hits and one unearned run over seven innings. He walked two and struck out four.

Eflin threw 99 pitches and 57 were sinkers. He got 12 outs on the ground. He also pitched over three errors behind him.

Big out

Eflin got into a little jam in the bottom of the sixth when he allowed a one-out infield hit followed by a walk. Dangerous but slow-footed Brian McCann came to the plate with the Braves down, 4-1. The best way to attack McCann in that situation was with a heavy dose of sinkers, something that would produce a ground ball and a potential double play. Eflin threw McCann a first-pitch sinker and got his double play ball for one of his biggest outs of the night.

Bullpen shines

Lefty Jose Alvarez retired three big bats — Freddie Freeman, Josh Donaldson and Nick Markakis — in the bottom of the eighth. He struck out both Freeman and Donaldson and got Markakis on a ground ball. The Phils have done a good job on Freeman in the first two games of the series. They’ve pitched around him some and gone after him some. He is 0 for 5 with four walks.

Hector Neris got the save with a 1-2-3 ninth.

Go figure

Heading into the final meeting of the season with Atlanta on Thursday afternoon, the Phillies have 10-8 record against the Braves.

While the Phils have enjoyed a winning record against the soon-to-be NL East champions, they have struggled against the last-place Miami Marlins. The Phils are 7-9 against the Marlins. The Phils finish the season later this month with three games against Miami.

Up next

Good pitching matchup in Thursday afternoon’s series finale: Aaron Nola (12-5, 3.62) against right-hander Mike Soroka (12-4, 2.57). First pitch is 12:10 p.m.

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Matt Klentak Q&A: Gabe Kapler's future, passing on Dallas Keuchel, more

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Matt Klentak Q&A: Gabe Kapler's future, passing on Dallas Keuchel, more

ATLANTA — From Gabe Kapler’s future to the deals he did and didn’t make to a potential contract extension for J.T. Realmuto and the chances of seeing pitching prospect Spencer Howard in April, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak was asked about a number of topics by reporters before Wednesday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves.

Let’s go:

Question: Will Kapler return as manager next season?

Answer: “I mean this sincerely: We have 13 games left, we're four games out (in the wild-card chase), and one of the teams we're chasing, we play five times. Until we play the last game of 2019, we're not going to start talking about 2020 yet. We still have 13 very important games to play. They'll be plenty of time to talk about 2020 after this season.”

Klentak went on to credit Kapler’s handling of the team in the wake of numerous injuries. He mentioned the team’s improved defense and base running.

“The players are the ones who do those things,” he said. “They're the ones who deserve the credit. But I think a lot of that credit can be shared with a really impactful coaching staff that has spent a lot of time working on little things that over the course of a season turn into much bigger things. 

“I think Kap is doing a remarkable job managing the bullpen right now. We have had seven key members of our bullpen on the injured list.

“I think he's doing a very good job. Is he perfect every day? No. Are we all perfect every day? No. Have we had our share of challenges? Of course we have. But I think the group is playing hard down the stretch. We still have a chance. I think a lot of the subtle improvements we've seen this year have been the product of our manager and coaching staff.”

Question: So, is Kapler being judged on more than wins and losses?

Answer: “Winning is what matters. For his job, for my job, for anybody in this game. That's the cold-hard truth. I know that. We all know that. But not every season is the same as the one that came before it or the one that comes after it. The circumstances change. The player personnel can change. Expectations can change. There are a lot of things that are different year in and year out. 

“I highlighted a few areas where I think our manager and coaching staff have done a terrific job. Whether those contributions are enough to get us in the playoffs or not remains to be seen. We have 13 more games. But I think there have been a lot of positives.”

Question: Do you second-guess yourself for not signing Dallas Keuchel?

(Klentak said baseball’s tampering rules prevented him from discussing a player directly. He did offer an answer, though.)

Answer: “We will always go back and look at our decision-making and try to put ourselves back in the moment where we were making decisions and see in retrospect if there were things that we should have seen that we didn’t. Why did we make decisions that we did? Was there some improvement that we could make to that thought process to reach different conclusions?

“You’ve heard me say this, last year’s starting rotation was both healthy and effective. The effectiveness wasn’t linear. It was more effective in the first half than it was in the second half. But in the aggregate, that group of guys was pretty good last year. There’s no question that we bet on some improvement from some of those players based on what they had shown in 2018, based on their ages, their development curve, that we thought there would be more improvement than what we’ve seen. It’s hard to look back and second-guess that thought process. It’s easy to look back and second-guess the results, just like many Phillies fans have second-guessed. We made a lot of adjustments to our team last offseason in a lot of areas, many of those have worked out, some have not, but I think the best we can do is to look at the reasons we made or didn’t make decisions and try to learn from it.

“We’re evaluating every day whether it’s players or staff members or anything else.”

Question: Any second thoughts about being conservative at the trade deadline?

Answer: "You have to operate with the information that you have at the time that you were asked to make the decision. Given our place in the standings at the end of July, given the injuries that we had sustained and the likelihood that many of them would continue through the end of the season, that obviously impacts what our approach is going to be. Then you go out and you assess what the market is offering, what the cost is to acquire different players to make certain improvements and you make judgments. I will tell you that Corey Dickerson’s production for us was really impressive and, at times, Mike Morin and Blake Parker have pitched meaningful innings for us. I think Jason Vargas has done largely what we’ve asked him to do, which was take the ball every day and keep us in the game.

“The fact that we may not have traded away a lot of talent to acquire those players — I think what we should be evaluating is the contributions that those players made, and hopefully will continue to make, and less what we gave up to get them. I understand that sometimes what you give up can serve as a proxy for aggressiveness or intent but I think there’s also a value in reading a market and trying to make the best deals that you can. I know that some of the players that we brought in may not have been household names, but I think most of them have performed in such a way that they’ve delivered what we hope they’d deliver which is adding depth to our bullpen and keeping us in games in our rotation and in Dickerson’s case adding an impact bat.”

Question: Some starting pitchers regressed or did not live up to potential in 2019. How do you evaluate first-year pitching coach Chris Young?

Answer: “I never think it’s just one thing. On the topic of CY, I think if we’re going to be critical of players taking a step back this year, which I understand, we also have to recognize that many of our players took a step forward last year and a big part of that was the changes that we made to our game-planning and CY had a major impact on the positive strides our players made last year. It’s a big reason that we felt comfortable sliding him into the pitching coach role when we did because of the gains that we made a year ago.

“The season hasn’t gone the way we thought it would in terms of the development of some of our starters, and I understand why the pitching coach will take a lot of the heat for that. I think much like with anybody who’s in their first year in any position, but particularly a prominent major league position, it’s reasonable to expect that that person is going to improve as the season goes along. And we’ve absolutely seen that. I think by the halfway point of the season we were on pace to potentially set National League records for home runs allowed. Part of that is the changing dynamic in the game and the ball itself, but that certainly was not a pace that we were looking to be on and our pitching groups made some key adjustments to address that. We’re not on the leaderboard of home run prevention, but it’s been considerably better in the second half. I think he and our group have made a lot of improvements along the way. But I understand why when a season has gone the way that it does his name is going to be in the paper.”

Question: J.T. Realmuto will be eligible for free agency after the 2020 season. Chances of an extension before then?

Answer: “I think J.T. has had a phenomenal season. When we acquired him, I declared him the best catcher in baseball. He’s been better than that. He’s been everything we could have asked for. I think it’s reasonable to expect that one of our offseason goals will be to address his contract situation and whether we line up or not remains to be seen. But he has done nothing to change our belief in him or our desire to make him a Phillie for the foreseeable future.”

Question: Will top pitching prospect Spencer Howard crack the opening day rotation next season?

Answer: “I think probably he’s going to need more time in the minor leagues. He had such an abbreviated season this year (because of a minor shoulder injury), as impressive as it was, we’re sending him to the Arizona Fall League to capture some of those innings that he missed when he was on the injured list this year to build up his workload in such a way that he can have a full season or even an extended season workload next year. One of the big challenges in baseball right now is the difference in the ball itself. I think it’s going to be important for him to get comfortable with the major league ball, whether that’s spring training or at the Triple A level, before we have confidence that he’s ready for the next step and that he has the confidence that he’s ready for the next step. None of that should diminish our confidence in him to be a very good pitcher at the major league level and hopefully in short order. We do think he has a very bright future ahead of him, but we also need to make sure we do the right thing for him developmentally and we’re hopeful that his positive progression will continue in the fall.”

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